USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Jinx’
Customs
Folk Beliefs

Jinxing

Interviewer: Got any Czech traditions or beliefs you could tell me about?

Informant: Sure, yeah there are some cool ones. So, we have one called “Jinxing”. Basically, when somebody predicts something positive about the future, anyone in the room should knock on an object made out of wood, in order for it to come true.

There’s also another variation for it. Same sort of.. Requirements for the tradition, but instead of knocking on something wood, you have to find something hollow and knock on it

Interviewer: Does anything happen if you don’t knock on an object?

Informant: If you don’t knock on an object, then that prediction won’t happen. Like, the exact opposite, worst case scenario would occur.

Context: My informant is a nineteen year old Czech national attending school in the United States. He’s lived in Prague for most of his life, and Czech is his first language. The interview was conducted face-to-face in a college dorm room.

Background: My informant, though he claims himself not to be superstitious, did profess that he did knock, since to do otherwise would be to “jinx” the prediction. He learned of the belief from his friends while living in Prague, and said that though he did not necessarily share this belief entirely, he was still afraid of “Jinxing” a prediction. According to him, if anyone were to not knock on an object, they would be accused if anything went wrong in the future.

Analysis: This belief is reminiscent of a similar belief held in the Northwestern United States that I’ve encountered, though I’m unsure how widespread of a phenomenon it is. In the US, “Jinxing” simply means that if you second-guess someone or say your misgivings about an action or event out loud, whatever you worried about will actually come true. This seems to be tied to some overarching belief in fate, especially as a malicious, or at least unforgiving force. Though this understanding of faith seems to be malleable, it can be constrained – in this case, when one does not voice their concerns, the belief is that fate will turn a blind eye. The fact that this understanding of fate is present in both the US and Czech may suggest a sharing of cultural attributes, perhaps through channels of immigration.

Folk Beliefs
general
Protection

Yiddish Jinx: “Kneina Hura”

Main Piece: “So in the Jewish tradition… it’s really a Yiddish term… so I think more of the older generation identifies with it and it’s been passed down my family from my grandparents and, so, the term is ‘kneina hura’. It’s basically what we would consider a jinx and so it’s when you say something in advance and then if something is going well but then you’re like don’t say it… that’s kneina hura. I’m trying to think of an example. So it might be if you have an event coming up over the weekend and you look at the forecast and you say oh what great weather– my mom would say don’t say that, that’s kneina hura because then it may rain.”

Background: The informant heard this term from her mother and grandmother, who still uses Yiddish. The informant has very little knowledge of Yiddish, while her mother knows only what she’s heard from her own mother. Growing up, the informant intepreted this saying as a way to ward off a jinx. Her mother occassionally uses Yiddish informally, but her grandmother uses Yiddish terminology quite often. The informant notes that jinxes are important to her family because they believe that despite the inevitability of things going wrong, there is some higher authority with control over these events.

Performance Context: The informant sat in a chair while I sat at my desk.

My Thoughts: The informant’s piece of folklore has been passed down orally directly through the grandmother, who is the family’s holder of Yiddish terminology. Yiddish is considered a dying, or even dead, language with little contemporary usage. The informant herself rarely uses Yiddish and can only remember a few phrases from her grandmother, so it seems unlikely that this saying will be passed down generationally. The superstition and value placed on the power of the jinx is interesting, as the evil eye (a source of protection against harm) is quite dominant in navigating chance and fortune in Jewish tradition.

Customs
Game

Jinx, You Owe Me a Soda

Text:

“Jinx you owe me a soda.”

Background:

If you say the same word or phrase as another person, you would say the phrase shown above to them. Jinx means you aren’t allowed to talk, and you have to give them a soda or they have to say your name three times. My informant said that it means nothing to him, just a game. Fun to play with little kids.

Context:

My respondent recalls learning it as a kid in elementary school, but now he says it when he’s with his little cousins.

Personal Thoughts:

I’m curious to learn more about the origin of this game/saying. I wonder what exactly jinx is referring to, and whether or not it has anything to do with jins.  Otherwise, it seems like a fun little game that kids “play” without getting too serious about it. I’ve personally never see anyone actually follow through with the rules.

Folk Beliefs

Jinxed

This is about a folk belief that my informant has about the notion of acknowledging something, and by acknowledgement causing the situation to change for the worse.

“The only superstition that I only kind of semi believe that I don’t believe at all, but if I were going to believe one this is the closest I come to believing one, is when you say something and acknowledge it you jinx it. Like, when Simon came with a new machine for the credit card, and he said “oh yeah it’s got bigger print and everything so you can read it”, and I said “oh but does it work?” And it didn’t work. Or you go outside and say it’s great weather and then it rains. It’s something about acknowledging it out loud and then all of a sudden it goes away. But I still don’t really believe that. But sometimes I actually don’t say something because I’m afraid if I say it then I will have jinxed it.”

Despite the informant’s protestations that she did not ascribe to this folk belief, she ascribes to it enough that she actively modifies her behavior in order to avoid its potential consequences. It’s expressing the idea that some things are simply too good to occur, and if one acknowledges it then the universe might pay attention and take it away, or perhaps that a stroke of good luck can be removed by acknowledging that one is having it. It’s almost a type of magic, wherein one acknowledges a reality and that acknowledgement will change the existence of that reality.

Folk Beliefs
general
Signs

Jinxing

This piece of folklore came about when I was watching a basketball game with my informant, and the player had gotten fouled and was shooting free throws. The commentator said that this shooter was a “phenomenal free throw shooter, one of the best in the NBA”, and that he had made 16 in a row at this point. My informant looked over at me and said, “he just jinxed him”, and the player wound up shooting and missing the free throw attempt. My informant said “I told you so”, and I asked him what he thought the origins of jinxing were.

My informant told me that he has been familiar with the concept for years, in sporting events, and life events in general. “I’ve learned to never try to predict things, saying that things will be good or that something will happen. I’m afraid of jinxing it” he said. When I asked my informant whether or not he really thought that this piece of folklore was, in a sense, real, he said “you never know”. He told me that more often than not, whenever he feels like he has jinxed something, it usually goes wrong.

My informant told me that he wasn’t sure whether it just felt that way, or if there really was a statistical correlation. He says that he is especially sensitive to jinxing in the world of sports. He says that he never outright says that one team will win, or that a certain player will have a good game if he is rooting for them. He said he just wants to “play it safe” so he doesn’t get frustrated afterwards if things go the opposite way.

He says that sometimes he’ll even try to jinx the team or player that he is rooting against, telling somebody that the team he wants to lose is “going to win”, in hopes that it will jinx the other team. A lot of people believe that it doesn’t work that way, he says, but thinks that he may as well try.

I believe that this piece of folk belief likely dates far back in history, as it seems to be common across the globe and a very common belief. I believe that people believe in jinxing because they only really pay attention to when the jinxing actually works. If a person or team gets jinxed one day, and they end up succeeding anyways, I believe that an individual will not pay as much attention to that event. On the other hand, if a jinx goes through and truly works, I believe a person is more likely to say, “I told you so” or “that always happens”.

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